Nasa specialist sues over being fired

2012-03-12 07:12

Los Angeles - Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has landed robotic explorers on the surface of Mars, sent probes to outer planets and operates a worldwide network of antennas that communicates with interplanetary spacecraft.

Its latest mission is defending itself in a workplace lawsuit filed by a former computer specialist who claims he was demoted - and then let go - for promoting his views on intelligent design, the belief that a higher power must have had a hand in creation because life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone.

David Coppedge, who worked as a "team lead" on the Cassini mission exploring Saturn and its many moons, alleges that he was discriminated against because he engaged his co-workers in conversations about intelligent design and handed out DVDs on the idea while at work. Coppedge lost his "team lead" title in 2009 and was let go last year after 15 years on the mission.

Opening statements are expected to begin on Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court after two years of legal wrangling in a case that has generated interest among supporters of intelligent design.

The Alliance Defence Fund, a Christian civil rights group, and the Discovery Institute, a proponent of intelligent design, are both supporting Coppedge's case.


"It's part of a pattern. There is basically a war on anyone who dissents from Darwin and we've seen that for several years," said John West, associate director of the Centre for Science and Culture at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. "This is free speech, freedom of conscience 101."

The National Centre for Science Education, which rejects intelligent design as thinly veiled creationism, is also watching the case and has posted all the legal filings on its website.

"It would be unfortunate if the court took what seems to be a fairly straightforward employment law case and allowed it to become this tangled mess of trying to adjudicate scientific matters," said Josh Rosenau, NCSE's programmes and policy director.

"It looks like a pretty straightforward case. The mission that he was working on was winding down and he was laid off."

Coppedge's attorney, William Becker, said his client was singled out by his bosses because they perceived his belief in intelligent design to be religious.

Coppedge had a reputation around JPL as an evangelical Christian and other interactions with co-workers led some to label him as a Christian conservative, Becker said.

In the lawsuit, Coppedge said he believes other things also led to his demotion, including his support for a state ballot measure that sought to define marriage as limited to heterosexual couples and his request to rename the annual holiday party a "Christmas party".


"David had this reputation for being a Christian, for being a practicing one. He did not go around evangelising or proselytising. But if he found out that someone was a Christian he would say, 'Oh that's interesting, what denomination are you?'" Becker said.

"He's not apologising for who he is. He's an evangelical Christian."

In an e-mailed statement, JPL dismissed Coppedge's claims. In court papers, lawyers for the California Institute of Technology, which manages JPL for Nasa, said Coppedge received a written warning because his co-workers complained of harassment. They also said Coppedge lost his "team lead" status because of ongoing conflicts with others.

Caltech lawyers contend Coppedge was one of two Cassini technicians and among 246 JPL employees let go in 2011 due to planned budget cuts.

While the case has attracted interest because of the controversial nature of intelligent design, it is at its heart a straightforward discrimination case, said Eugene Volokh, a professor of First Amendment law at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees such basic rights as freedom of speech and religion.

"The question is whether the plaintiff was fired simply because he was wasting people's time and bothering them in ways that would have led him to being fired regardless of whether it was about religion or whether he was treated worse based on the religiosity of his beliefs," said Volokh. "If he can show that, then he's got a good case."

Coppedge, who began working for JPL as a contractor in 1996 and was hired in 2003, is active in the intelligent design sphere and runs a website that interprets scientific discoveries through the lens of intelligent design. His father authored an anti-evolution book and founded a Christian outreach group.


He is also a board member for Illustra Media, a company that produces video documentaries examining the scientific evidence for intelligent design. The company produces the videos that Coppedge was handing out to co-workers, said Becker, his attorney.

His main duties at JPL were to maintain computer networks and troubleshoot technical problems for the mission. In 2000, he was named "team lead", serving as a liaison between technicians and managers for nearly a decade before being demoted in 2009.

He sued in April 2010 alleging religious discrimination, retaliation and harassment and amended his suit to include wrongful termination after losing his job last year.

Coppedge is seeking attorney's fees and costs, damages for wrongful termination and a statement from the judge that his rights were violated, said Becker.

  • jody.beggs - 2012-03-12 07:43

    He got fired for being an idiot. NASA will only work with Scientific proof. Where was his evidence for Intelligent Design? Did he quote the Bible? At the end of the day 1. trying to change work policies. 2. Condemning gay marriages , just stone them like a good Christian would. 3. Lying about his intentions because being an evangelical means converting , going out and actively recruiting for Jesus. ... is what got him fired. Clearly he wasn't an ethical scientist. Damn the man.

      Aphrodite - 2012-03-12 08:31

      DAMN!! YOU ARE IRRITATING!!! If I have to read another of your "Damn the man" comments, I might just sh#t myself!!

      Mark - 2012-03-12 10:11

      Jody, Fired for being an idiot? No, that's not it, I think. We do not have enough information to really judge this, but it looks like he was being targeted for being an outspoken Christian. While it might be irritating to have an evangelating Christian, I think NASA should have dealt with it internally.

      Grant - 2012-03-12 10:28

      Jody you are acting like an idiot - can he not have a different view to you and still be intelligent, or do you think you understand it all - nasa has so little scientific proof, that is why they are investigating (according to the scientific journals we have uncovered less than 5% of the universe), the very best thing anyone who is investigating can do is to have people who think differently on their team, that way you can investigate from all angles, and find far more that way. The real problem is that evolution carries a fanatiscm that obscures their vision and is costing NASA and any other organisation that has their blinkers on dearly.

      jody.beggs - 2012-03-12 11:00

      @Aphrodite it looks like you sh@t yourself already. Damn the man.

      jody.beggs - 2012-03-12 11:06

      To all the God bother'ers. If you stay away from science and education then atheists will leave your geebers alone. Just because you believe in a book over scientific fact and reasoning doesn't mean your right. In fact its the exact opposite! Without the need or desire to actually look for evidence and proof, you've led yourselves down a narrow path and are unwilling to even understand reasonable arguments or think logically. Just go and pray. Damn the man.

      Mark - 2012-03-12 11:18

      Jody, That's narrow-minded dogmatic nonsense. Why do you struggle to comprehend that all people, atheist and theist alike, are homo sapiens, with the same inherent brain faculties and cognitive ability? Expand your view, and embrace diversity.

      jody.beggs - 2012-03-12 11:29

      @Mark and have a leap of faith. I think not , why blindly follow when by learning you see for yourself. How old where you when you were first threatened with Hell and Damnation? I don't need to remind you who is Dogmatic , Religion , it needs the Dogma to survive. There's a concept I don't think you can grasp. Massive amounts of time, given enough time life will adapt to survive and thrive. Do you think the world is 6000 years old ? If a NASA scientist believed this then he deserved to be fired ! Damn the man.

      Mark - 2012-03-12 11:41

      Jody, I don't believe in the Young Earth. However I maintain my statement that your views is dogmatic and fundamentalistic. By simply assuming that your opinion can not be wrong, you fall prey to that very fundamentalism you tried to get rid of when you became an atheist.

      jody.beggs - 2012-03-12 11:58

      I assume nothing I have facts and other scientific evidence to fall back on. What diversity do you want me to embrace ?

      Mark - 2012-03-12 12:31

      Jody, You assume nothing? I beg to differ. You (I have not actively debated you on this, so please correct me if I am wrong) claim that no God exists, and leave no room for other possibility? Now, if you assume nothing, then you have certain peer reviewed evidence, that abiogenesis is the definite cause of life? Or that singularity vacuums are the proven cause of the Big Bang? If not, you assume that there is no Creator.

      marius.dumas - 2012-03-12 12:45

      Jody, I’m not offended by you, but I see something wrong in your approach. I think there is a difference between atheist and anti-Christ. Being atheist does not mean disrespecting religion or seeing down on other people opinions or religious views even if you may correctly differ in your own view. It does not mean disrespecting any church and its people. Atheism only means you have your own independent look about things independent from religious doctrines. However the so-called anti-Christ will go out of their to disrespect or discredit Christians or any religion and try to shut them up, break them down. This is not what respectable atheists or scientists do. Most true scientists have no intention to work against any religion. Scientist observes and take note, what religions make out of it is up to them. But however religions choose to see things should be respected. It’s not a scientist job to force his theories, views or facts down anyone’s throat. The same applies to Christians too.

      Mark - 2012-03-12 12:59

      Marius, Perfect.

      Vitor - 2012-03-12 13:01

      Jody, don't forget that it is called the "Evolution Theory". Intelligent Design is also a theory, therefore as valid as any other theory. All of them require a measure of belief or faith. In fact it takes more faith to believe that we all come from "swamp gas" than that we are a product of Intelligent Design.

      jody.beggs - 2012-03-12 13:22

      @Vitor where is the evidence for your theory. There must be tons of peer reviewed data if your so smug about it ? @marius.dumas the difference is that Evolution and Atheism aren't religions, we're not bound to the blind leading the blind. Atheists have the opportunity to use Science as a tool to better ourselves and feel humbled by our understanding of the universe. On the other hand Creationists and Religious people using any form of science to better their lives are just plain hypocrites. You should be more like the Amish before you can say you don't believe in Science anymore. Christians try and discredit tiny points in a scientific theory without actually looking at the bigger picture. Often using outdated quotes from old Theories , thinking its the same as Religion and unchanging. Religion's are a thing of the past and through time have been a major stumbling block for real advancement. Its sexist , racist , intolerant of ideas and alternatives , condones murder of children , gays, witches , atheists and non-believers and worst of all is the Bibles stance of rape. Damn the man.

      jody.beggs - 2012-03-12 13:24

      @Mark faith is only needed for Religion. Atheist don't have to blindly believe and that's the main difference , we have evidence of any claims we make ? Do you , if so please state any ? Damn the man.

      jody.beggs - 2012-03-12 13:26

      @Mark What diversity do you want me to embrace ? I still would like an answer if you have one ?

      Mark - 2012-03-12 13:33

      Jody, Your comments about the assumptions I addressed first please.? To answer your other question - sorry I posted it incorrectly: "From what I observe in your posts, you have no place for ANY theist, and that is narrow minded. That's the diversity I'm talking about. You have your facts, and conclude that no God exists. I probably have similar facts, but choose to attribute it to a God. Why is that, by default, wrong or stupid?"

      Vitor - 2012-03-12 13:33

      PLEASE Jody, evolution is not an EXACT science, it's always changing. From Darwin to now it has continually been revised and updated, because frankly no-one really knows!! I am not approaching this subject through religious eyes, but there is very little evidence that you or I came from an amoeba swimming in some hot pond. Evidence, evidence, evidence - YOU GIVE ME EVIDENCE FOR THAT. Shame.

      jody.beggs - 2012-03-12 13:56

      @Vitor just like religion has changed and adapted over the years from apologizing about Galileo to trying to be more accepting to gays. That's evolution... As of yet no-one knows how life started but at least I don't say God did it and that's that. How is that progress ? God did it , what a laugh ! @Mark my comments are not assumption, the assumption is made when you have faith, not when you have documented facts you could backup or dis-credit , something the bible basher's seem to miss about their faith. I happy for you that faith is enough but I feel there is so much more than you allow yourself to see.... Damn the man.

      Mark - 2012-03-12 14:03

      Jody, I love science, but it does not refute God in my opinion. This thread is not going anywhere, so I will just agree to disagree with you.

      Vitor - 2012-03-12 14:18

      Guys just because I see merit in Intelligent Design, doesn't make me a religious zealot. In fact, I never mentioned the word God at all! It just makes me chuckle that those who fanatically support evolution, are sooooo closed to the possibility that there perhaps was some sort of genetic engineering from a higher intelligence in bringing us to where we are now! Hey maybe we 'aint the king's of the cosmos, maybe there is other superior intelligence out there! I suspect that there are some reading this, that want to burn me at the stake right now.

      Mark - 2012-03-12 14:21

      Vitor, You are spot on. The inability to consider an opinion different from outr own, is fundamentalism.

      jody.beggs - 2012-03-14 15:36

      @vitor its rich when Christians talk about intolerance. Witch burning for you would be fun hey... Are you tolerant of other religions and say teach them to your counter parts or are you limited to one world view. I mean if you have more than one religion in mind then you wouldn't be a massive hypocrite. But alas intelligent design and creationism are lying for Jesus. Pushing UN-substantiated claims is fraud at worst and moronic at best. Again please I urg you , provide substantiated peer reviewed evidence of intelligent design. No posts means you have none.... Damn the man.

  • Carl - 2012-03-12 08:13

    Thomas Nagel, prominent atheist and professsor of philosophy at New York University and written an article defending Intelligent Design as science. It would be worthwhile reading so that we don't get that typical atheist knee-JERK reaction the moment the term ID comes up. Anyhow, it would be interesting to see what comes out of this if it goes to trial

      TheSkepticDetective - 2012-03-12 10:19

      Intelligent Design is the pseudoscientific incarnation of Creationism. Anybody who claims that it is evidence based science is either delusional or lying.

      Carl - 2012-03-12 13:02

      hey, why not read Professor Nagel's article online? Thomas Nagel Intelligent Design and you will find it. Then read what he has to say.

  • Tony Lapson - 2012-03-12 08:45

    Handing out dvd's... A bit extreme. Keep your beliefs to yourself.

      Grant - 2012-03-12 10:22

      If he is not slowing down the work, if he is doing his job properly and not interfering with others work, then what is wrong with that. Our problem today is that we are too afraid of disrupting the peace, too afraid to talk out, too afraid to be different, we are just a lot of yellow necked chickens and then we try and crucify anyone who does not fit our mold

  • James - 2012-03-12 09:49

    Its standard to have in employment contracts clauses such as no discussions on religion or politics in the work place. Hell at the best of times these two topics are better avoided. He has reaped what he sowed and now he is taking his ex employer to court!?!

      Mark - 2012-03-12 10:12

      Standard? Really?

  • TheSkepticDetective - 2012-03-12 10:22

    It is irresponsible to proselytise to your workmates during office hours. Regardless of what religious worldview you might be promoting. I don't try and de-convert my colleagues to atheism. This article seems to indicate that this is not the reason why he lost his job. But we just won't know until both sides have been able to argue their cases before a judge. This sounds like a desperate ploy by a troubled mind though.

      marius.dumas - 2012-03-12 14:49

      I agree with you. The problem here is that he tries to force his religion and belief down other people’s throats. Surely any management can see this is a situation heading for trouble. Although I might respect a Christian’s point of view on the topic, while I have my own view. I don’t think his behavior was appropriate for the workplace. That might very well be the reason for the disciplinary action and not necessarily what he believes in.

  • marius.dumas - 2012-03-12 12:24

    Although evolution is backed by a great deal of evidence. Most scientist will probably consider it as good as a fact. I would also vote for evolution to be our biological creator. However, the scientific community need more than just a lot of evidence. They really need proof of every little piece of the puzzle before they can really call it fact. If there is not evidence on how a particular brain cell or blood cell have evolved, then the puzzle is still incomplete. So while evolution theory have not became fact yet regardless of the overwhelming amount of evidence, and as long as there is not scientific evidence that God created humans in their biological form or proof of what was meant by the term "human" back then. One can understand the controversy. Two groups fight over an issue and not one have actually been able to confirm any side of the argument as fact. NASA cannot really prove him wrong only because evolution is a plausible and well accepted theory. The only thing NASA can do is to see if he broke any policy or code of conduct. But because he takes a controversial stand on a contravention theory does not mean that on legal side he has anymore incorrect facts than that NASA is arguing with. The law will only give preference to a fact that can be confirmed by the scientific community. So even though many scientist in their belief have accepted evolution. It does not mean that the court will accept it as a fact. So I think he might have a go at it.

      marius.dumas - 2012-03-12 12:24

      However it might be wise to keep religion where it belongs if he plans on making it to the top in NASA. Well, because NASA is not exactly a church. For Christians who what to be scientist, they need to learn a thin line between matters of religious value and matters of scientific value. In the scientific arena he should try to restrict his opinions to known facts. NASA will not worry if he discusses the religious matter with his fellow church members.

      Mark - 2012-03-12 13:25

      Meme, And for that reason, any theistic point of view should be annihilated?

      marius.dumas - 2012-03-12 14:21

      Meme Peer reviews to me only means there is a school of thought that agrees on an particular issue or part of the issue. it does not mean there is not a school of thought that disagrees. In fact its simple to get pear reviews from scientists who believe the same as you do or who make the same common mistake. Therefore I have observed many peer reviews that contradicted each other from apposing sides. This means uncertainty or controversy within the science. Back to evolution. I don't deny that a great deal of evidence exist on the evolution theory. As I also said, I am a believer in evolution. It makes more sense to me than any other theory up to date. But the argument may evolve to what we define as law, fact or theory. Facts exist out of laws, theories exist out of facts. The facts are derived from observations. Put them together and you get a theory. By no means do I suggest that evolution theory is wrong. I only say that the entire theory have not been observed and cannot be a fact. It is puzzled together with facts. This makes it a theory no matter how many facts you have. Einstein’s relativity theory is a theory. But one of the most accurate and useful theories in physics.

      marius.dumas - 2012-03-12 14:21

      We all know gravity exists. It is a fact. But the explanation of gravity is a theory. The reason is that many scientists have different explanations by using facts of how it works and why the phenomena exists. This means there are multiple theories and none of them are facts. Evolution is the same. We know it exists. But there is no observation to the actual event other than matching facts together. I can only think that scientists are on the right path but they still have many questions to answer and controversies amongst them selves to sort out. If you say that life on earth are related by common descent with modification I will agree. It is a fact as far as I know. I think we have enough samples to match them up. But the explanation of how it happened and if the possibility exists of other effects not described by particular theories is the point where many unverified hypotheses on evolution theory exists. We consider what we observed as fact, but we cannot consider that we did not observe as fact. Facts refer to "events that occur" or "the state of being of things" that can be publicly verified, proven through experiment, or witnessed by direct observation. It’s not easy to turn something as complex as evolution into fact while it is still nothing more than a puzzle build from facts, observations and logical reasoning. Many things might have happened during 3 billion years that may affect the theory in time to come.

      marius.dumas - 2012-03-12 16:35

      Peer review is a process of self-regulation by a profession or a process of evaluation involving qualified individuals within the relevant field. There is no particular standard that defines a peer review. Each institution may adopt there own standards. If I write a technical report and give it to my colleague in the same profession as me to check, then it qualifies as a peer review per definition. I don't care if you think peer review means fact. It means there is someone in your profession who agrees. You live in an imaginary world. If a religious professional in the church have other religious professionals agree and write papers on a topic it will also be defined as a peer reviewed publication. It doesn’t mean that professionals in physics or biology have to agree on it. If it is accepted within the self-regulating group of professions, then it is a peer review. I’ve seen many people trying to support their opinion by using peer review as argument as if “peer review” proves it to be fact. It proves nothing more than just saying “scientist said”, So go talk nonsense with someone else.

      marius.dumas - 2012-03-12 16:52

      I quote from wikipedia: "Peer review, in scientific journals, assumes that the article reviewed has been honestly written, and the process is not designed to detect fraud. The reviewers usually do not have full access to the data from which the paper has been written and some elements have to be taken on trust. "

      marius.dumas - 2012-03-12 17:02

      Here is also a nice article, the first one I found on google of peer reviews that supports my understanding about it.

      marius.dumas - 2012-03-13 10:32

      So Meme, As much as you want to call evolution a fact. It is a theory regardless of the amount of peer reviews it received, like it or not. The Quantum theory, Thievinin's theory, Nortan's theory, relativity theory, evolution theory, big-bang theory, chaos theory, string theory....they are all theories with incredible usefulness to science. But in their nature, they are theories and not facts or laws, no matter the scientific confidents for them or the facts what construct them. And they all have a great deal of peer reviews behind them. The thing is that theories can evolve while facts and laws cannot. This means, more knowledge and info around evolution may develop while Ohm’s law will remain forever unchanged. So will the fact that there is 1 litre of water in a kg also remain unchanged. Theories can be extremely accurate but the dynamic nature of them to be open to change or development will cause them to remain theories and not facts or laws.

      marius.dumas - 2012-03-14 08:20

      @Meme, I agree with you on this last statement. It’s like the popular comparison with gravity. We all know it exist and therefore its existence is a fact. But the theory that explains it will for long remain a theory. I agree evolution is a fact and nobody can deny that we are still evolving. I just don’t want to turn the evolution theory into fact only because we know evolution exists. But I can say, I agree with you.

  • Carl - 2012-03-12 13:19

    Read the following excerpt from The theory of intelligent design is simply an effort to empirically detect whether the "apparent design" in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause) or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations. Creationism typically starts with a religious text and tries to see how the findings of science can be reconciled to it. Intelligent design starts with the empirical evidence of nature and seeks to ascertain what inferences can be drawn from that evidence. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design does not claim that modern biology can identify whether the intelligent cause detected through science is supernatural. Honest critics of intelligent design acknowledge the difference between intelligent design and creationism.... In other words, the charge that intelligent design is "creationism" is a rhetorical strategy on the part of Darwinists who wish to delegitimize design theory without actually addressing the merits of its case.

      Endof - 2012-03-12 15:40

      Carl, whichever way you look at it, Intelligent Design is the brainchild of the religious. It was clearly constructed as a result of the severe kicking that creationism has had at the hands of science over the years. It is indeed an effort by the religious to try and establish a pseudo-scientific base from which to attempt to argue against evolution and garner support amongst the religious. However, let's not forget that a polished turd is still a turd and no amount of wishy-washy attempts to "prove" ID will change the fact that it has (and will continue to get) a severe and well deserved kicking from the science community.

      Carl - 2012-03-12 16:30

      Endof and Meme, why don't you both rather respond to the substance of the argument? Your speculations are irrelevant in any event. Meme wants to define the limits of science, which according to him has already "all but concluded..." I'd be embarrased Meme...

      Endof - 2012-03-12 17:01

      Carl, responding to the "substance" of the ID argument is like responding to the theory that storks deliver babies.

      Mike - 2012-03-12 17:53

      Where are the peer reviewed papers on ID? .....none whatsoever!

  • Karien - 2012-03-19 16:49

    This article mentions how the Discovery Institute insists on looking at science solely through the spectacles of Intelligent Design. Until they have provided us with the means by which we may detect god or any definitive scientifically measurable proof of supernatural influence, the Academy of Science cannot take them seriously. The vast majority of even religious scientists support the Theory of Evolution. I'm sure that ID/Creation and Discovery Institute supporters here are going to challenge this without checking the facts, so I'll say that you should go to wikipedia and check the level of scientific support for the Theory of Evolution world wide before you do. Until proof of spiritual influence that is measurable and testable is found and presented by scientific means and standards, nothing will change except for an ever increasing shift towards agnosticism/atheism. Extremism from the side of ID supporters can only increase the resistance to it. This case seems to me to be an attempt from Discovery Institute proponents to find some kind of legal proof for their claims of unfair discrimination in the field of scientific discovery, which they could not prove thus far. This man’s explicit claim for a statement to the effect that Caltech and NASA had discriminated against him on the grounds of his religious beliefs serves as an indication of this. This just underscores the Discovery Institutes’ and his ulterior motives.

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